Mother Nature is the best hope residents have for avoiding an increase in natural gas prices this winter.
Officials with Aquila, the natural gas company that serves 30,000 customers in Lawrence, said they were expecting natural gas prices this winter to increase by 17 to 18 percent compared to levels last year. But Scott Heidtbrink, operations vice president for the company in Kansas, said weather forecasters also were predicting a warmer winter than last year.
The warmer winter would mean consumers would need to use less gas to heat their homes and businesses, which would help offset the increase in gas prices.
"We think it could be a wash," Heidtbrink said at an event the company, formerly known as Kansas Public Service, had to answer questions for Lawrence city commissioners. "Most projections I have seen is that your overall bill should be about the same."
That is if you can believe the weather forecasts.
"Well at my place we still haven't gotten that rain they said we would get, but maybe they'll get it right with the temperatures," Heidtbrink said.
If the winter doesn't turn out to be a mild one, consumers could expect to see their gas bill increase by 17 percent to 18 percent. For the typical Lawrence resident, the increase could be significant. Larissa Long, a spokeswoman for the company, said last year the average gas bill for a residential customer in Lawrence was $65 per month with prices in the winter months slightly higher than that.
Even if winter weather is warmer than normal, Heidtbrink said consumers still might be hit with a double-digit increase in their gas bills depending on what events happen in the Middle East.
"Whatever we do in Iraq is a real wild card," Heidtbrink said, referring to possible U.S. military action to oust Saddam Hussein.
Heidtbrink said an attack on Iraq would increase natural gas prices. Even though the U.S. doesn't receive its natural gas from the Middle East, natural gas prices almost always follow the price of oil, he said.